A Break for Grandparent Carers

September 14, 2023

A grandfather and grandmother enjoy a relaxing moment together.

Imagine being a grandparent and suddenly finding yourself in the role of full-time parent again. This is the reality for a growing number of grandparents who are stepping up to care for their grandchildren. The responsibilities, often magnified by trauma these children have experienced, can be overwhelming. Discover how a recent respite camp initiative by our partner charity, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, not only gave these grandparents some downtime for themselves but also introduced the children to new adventures.

Many grandparents who take care of their grandchildren full time are feeling overwhelmed and struggling with their role as parents. The stress and pressures on them are so great that they sometimes feel they have no other choice but to hand over their grandchildren to Oranga Tamariki (The Ministry for Children) for foster care. What they really need is a break and some respite from their challenging and stressful parenting roles, especially since the children have often experienced trauma. However, there are few options available for them to take a break.

Around 85% of grandparent carers are caring for children in non-state care placements, and they only qualify for financial support through the Unsupported Child or Orphan's Benefit. This contrasts with foster carers who qualify for 20 respite days each year. The situation is made worse by the fact that grandparents and whānau carers are typically over 55 years of age. Half of them have had to give up work to care for their grandchildren full-time or rely on national superannuation with limited financial means, putting extra stressors on them mentally, physically, and emotionally.

To address this issue, Karla Macdonald, Communications and Projects Coordinator for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust NZ, project-managed an initiative to provide a respite camp at Camp Adair, Hunua during the recent school holidays. The camp was exclusively for 90 tamariki and rangatahi aged 6 to 16 years being raised by their members and it was held over five days.

The respite camp provided much-needed relief for grandparent and whānau/kin caregiver families from across the Auckland region. It also gave the tamariki and rangatahi an incredible camp experience and adventure. For many of them, it was their first time on a camp, their first time away from their caregivers, and the first time experiencing a range of outdoor activities.

The camp was led by highly skilled instructional staff who were trained in first aid, risk management, behaviour management, and child protection. They helped the tamariki and rangatahi to manage their physical, social, and emotional needs during their time at camp. Karla says that every tamariki and rangatahi got to experience independence, make new friends, develop confidence, teamwork, and communication skills.

Karla believes that all tamariki and rangatahi should have the opportunity to go to camp. Respite camps give tamariki and rangatahi who often miss out, an opportunity to participate in what should be a right for all kiwi kids - the camp experience. The project was very satisfying for her, and she is proud of what they were able to do, knowing that they have changed lives forever.

Karla Macdonald and Shirley Afoa at Camp Adair.

The situation for grandparent carers is challenging, and they need more support. The respite camp initiative provides much-needed relief, and it is essential that more of these initiatives are developed to give these carers a break from their parenting roles. The respite camp not only provided relief to the carers but also gave the tamariki and rangatahi a unique experience and an opportunity to develop new skills and make friends.

Words supplied by Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

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